I hear it often. The comments, the accusations. It’s hard to stay optimistic when you’re repeatedly bombarded with stories of cyber-bullying and school shootings and juvenile criminals. I get it. I do. I’ve rolled my eyes and scoffed in disgust just as much as the next guy. My throat has nosedived into my stomach on multiple occasions, horrified by tales of kids doing unthinkable things. I’m not oblivious or naïve. There’s a big picture, though, and I’m disheartened that you’re only getting half of it – that you can’t know what you don’t know.
It’s the first week of January and I’m dreading the end of first semester. Class changes mean losing old students, eighteen of whom I’ve grown especially close to over the past four and a half months. The time has come to release my brilliant creative writers into the hands of other teachers and I’m not ready. Neither are they. Room 104 is our room. It’s where we talk about writing structure and personal growth, where we sit in silence when someone successfully harnesses the power of words, leaving everyone (ironically) speechless.
It’s magic neither of us is prepared to relinquish. So they come to me, all eighteen of them, after school and they tell me they have an idea – a way to keep meeting, to keep talking about writing. “A writers’ club!” they announce. “We can meet once or twice a week after school to read and write and eat donuts.” (Because no high school club is complete without donuts.)
And it hits me. People don’t know that these kids still exist. They think our future’s full of incompetent, self-absorbed idiots who do nothing but text misspelled words to people they barely know. They think children who take responsibility for their education are extinct when the truth is that they’re simply overshadowed by kids like Dylan Klebold and Adam Lanza.
I should tell them, I think. They should know.
I should tell them about the two sophomores who offer to carry my heavy workbag every morning and about the quiet freshman who holds the door for me as I head down to lunch. They should know about the brilliant poet who frequently stays after class to ask for supplemental material and about my group of seniors, the one full of struggling readers who encourage each other to succeed and who stare at me, terrified, whenever I mention their future.
There’s a kid in my eighth period class who wears all black. You should’ve seen him the day his classmate, who suffers from a neurological disorder, tripped and fell between a row of desks – the way he helped him when no one else would, the way my eyes glistened with tears of pride that he did the right thing and sadness that the rest of the world might never know the way his voice sounded when he asked, “You okay, man?”
Kids these days.
You should know about them.